Did you know that it is a crime to intimidate or dissuade a witness? A California penal code makes it a felony to interfere with or attempt to prevent someone from testifying in a legal proceeding. This law exists to protect witnesses and victims who may fear retaliation if they testify.
What Does It Mean to “Dissuade or Intimidate a Witness”?
The legal term “dissuading or intimidating a witness” covers a broad range of conduct in which someone attempts to prevent someone from testifying. This includes:
- Influencing, persuading, or trying to influence or persuade anyone
- Releasing information that could subject a person to hatred, contempt, disgrace, or ridicule
- Harming a person’s credit or business reputation
A legal proceeding can be virtually anything that is considered an official state of affairs, including:
- Court proceedings
- Legislative committee hearings
- Administrative agency hearings
- Informal fact-finding
Conduct prohibited under this law also includes all forms of communication, such as:
- Speeches and public statements
- Writings and notices
- Telephone calls or voice messages
What Is the Legal Definition of “Influencing” a Witness?
To “influence” a witness means to have anyone change or maintain the potential testimony, or cause anyone to withhold their testimony. Influencing a witness is illegal in California.
Dissuading or Intimidating a Witness According to CA Penal Code 136.1 PC
The CA Penal Code 136.1 PC prohibits influencing, persuading, or attempting to influence someone to refrain from attending any legal proceeding as a victim or witness.
This includes warning the person of criminal prosecution if they testify. It is also illegal to release information that could subject anyone to hatred, contempt, or ridicule.
California Penal Code 136.1 PC is broken into three separate categories of dissuading or intimidating a witness:
- Influencing through duress, force, menace, violence, or threats of quick and unlawful bodily harm to the person or someone close to them
- Using bribery to induce dishonesty
- Otherwise preventing or attempting to prevent any witness or victim from appearing in court or giving their testimony
What Is the Penalty for Dissuading or Intimidating a Witness?
“Dissuading or intimidating a witness” is usually interpreted as a violation of Penal Code §136.1 PC. It is usually called and charged as either a misdemeanor or felony. This depends on the severity of the act committed by the defendant.
Dissuading or Intimidating a Witness: Misdemeanor
If you influence, attempt to influence, persuade, or intimidate someone to refrain from attending a legal proceeding through duress, force, menace, violence, or threats of quick and unlawful bodily harm to the person or someone close to them, you will likely be charged with a misdemeanor of dissuading or intimidating a witness.
If convicted of this crime as a misdemeanor, you face up to one year in county jail; and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
Dissuading or Intimidating a Witness: Felony
If you use bribery in an attempt to induce the person not to testify, you will likely be charged with the felony offense of dissuading or intimidating a witness. If convicted of this crime as a felony, you face two, three, or four years in county jail; and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
To add to that, if you have been convicted of certain sex crimes listed under Penal Code section § 290 PC within the past seven years, a conviction for any of the offenses listed under Penal Code section § 136 PC will result in a “strike” on your criminal record under California’s Three Strikes Law.
Notably, an attempt to influence a witness through bribery or other illegal means is considered a violation of this law, not a separate crime.
Also, note that intimidation can be charged as a felony if the following statements are factual:
- The defendant hired someone else to commit the crime of intimidating a witness
- The defendant committed the crime of intimidating by using force or fear to prevent the witness from testifying; California Penal Code Section § 137(a) PC
- The defendant used threats of violence to influence testimony; California Penal Code Section § 422 PC
- The defendant has a past conviction for intimidation, witness tampering, or dissuading a witness
- A greater conspiracy was behind the intimidation
- Bribing witnesses to miss attending trials; California Penal Code Section § 138(a) PC
Legal Defenses to Penal Code Section 136.1 PC of California’s “Dissuading a Witness” Law
The good news is that there are several legal defenses to the crime of dissuading a witness. If you can demonstrate that your actions were not likely to cause the person not to attend or that it was done legally, you should be acquitted of this offense.
Below are the legal defenses:
Self-Defense/Defense of Others
The prosecution should not use coercion or persuasion if your actions were in self-defense or the defense of another. Even though you used violence or other illegal means to influence the person not to testify, you are allowed to use duress or persuasion as a legal defense if your actions were necessary for your protection.
The prosecution could not use duress or persuasion if you took action to seek redress for the injury suffered. For instance, you were injured in a car accident, and you used intimidation or persuasion to convince the other person not to file an insurance claim against you.
Entrapment occurs when law enforcement officials lure you into committing a crime. In this case, convincing another person not to testify. This is a legal defense to dissuade a witness.
It is not unfathomable for someone to accuse you of dissuading a witness as an act of revenge for your actions. This is especially true in the case of family members and divorce matters. This prosecution must prove that you did use duress or force to influence the person not to testify.
Get Help When Accused of Dissuading or Intimidating a Witness
Whenever you face charges of dissuading a witness under CA Penal Code section § 136.1 PC, consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer. They will review the evidence against you and explore legal defense options to reduce or dismiss your charges.
The Los Angeles DUI attorney site has a directory of professionals ideal for your case. Get in touch with us today and let us help you defend against charges of dissuading a witness.